Getting to Know You
Your name: Susan Henderson
What’s your connection with disability?
I’m a person with a disability — a below the knee amputee, and I work at a disability civil rights organization. My life has always been filled with disability. I am amazed when I meet people who say that they don’t know anyone with a disability.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. While I’ve never gone to a Star Trek convention, we went out of our way when we were in Wales to visit Portmerion so we could see The Village where The Prisoner was filmed. Vote for No. 6.
If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?
Spain. I love the late, late nights, gatherings in the squares, the architecture, the warm sea and the warm people.
What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck?
The Davis Coffeehouse Broccoli Noodle Casserole. Feeds a lot of people and it’s so “potluck”
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
What do you do?
I’m the executive director at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?
I used to work in private law firms (I’m not an attorney) but as I finished my MBA I knew that I wanted to do something more than help law firms increase their profit. The first time I looked at job listings I saw an ad for an administrator at DREDF. Despite being a person with a disability I wasn’t connected to the disability community, but I was aware of the movement and the connection between disability and discrimination. I’d followed the 504 Sit-Ins in the news back in 1977, and watched the corporate reaction to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
With a healthy retirement fund.
Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?
I’ll leave that up to them.
Who or what inspires you?
Here’s my chance to say that I respect and admire what my parents, Ozzie and Dorothy, did for me and my brother. They grew up in large families living in poverty during the Depression and World War II. They left high school to work to help support their families. They didn’t get a chance to finish their education. My dad became a union electrician and they joined the middle class. In their different ways, they made sure we could and would go to college–that we’d be among the first in their families. They made sure that their kids had opportunities. And everyday, I’m inspired by the people I work with and know in the disability community.
If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?
I never struggled with being disabled. I did, for awhile, worry about other people who were uncomfortable around me when they learned that I was an amputee. But once I realized that I was going hear the question “Why are you limping?” over and over again, and when I replied because I used a prosthetic leg and their response would be, “I would never have known — you walk so well,” I lost that sensitivity.
What do you like about your particular disability?
It leaves more room at the bottom half of the bed for the dogs.
Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?
That pity is useless. That resenting or denying accommodation is ignorant. That fear is misplaced.
What single piece of technology makes your life easier?
Laptop — undeniably. It’s often the last thing I put aside before I close my eyes at night and the first thing I grab when I wake up.
For parents of children with disabilities, there is a tremendous amount of information on the DREDF site under “Special Education“. Those new to disability and legal advocacy will find it worthwhile to spend time on the DREDF site, learning about IDEA, section 504, the ADA and more.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.